Prior to investing in an advanced metering system six years ago, the Bolivar Energy Authority in Tennessee felt hampered in key areas of utility operations and customer service. The staff faced unsafe conditions entering yards to read meters, trudged through inconsistent billing cycles, could offer little good information when responding to high bill complaints, and considered distribution system maintenance and outage response to be inefficient and costly. Today, with the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) from Honeywell [formerly Elster], BEA is deploying a variety of new billing, engineering, and energy usage applications proving to be very popular with utility customers and employees.
An industry leader in operations and safety, BEA maintains 1,500 miles of distribution line and serves 11,400 customers across 700 square miles of service territory covering 5 counties in 2 states. When deciding on which AMI system to purchase, BEA officials visited nearby public power systems and examined Honeywell system deployments.
“In particular, we found the Honeywell AMI system would work well for a utility like ours,” said John Fortune, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Yes, price was a factor. As important, we serve a wide area but do not have a fiber backbone for network communications. We need an AMI system that provides a strong radio frequency signal, and Honeywell maintains very good relationships with the RF vendor community. The Honeywell system’s ability to communicate with our legacy billing system also proved to be a major point in Honeywell’s favor.”
A marketing partner of Hometown Connections, Honeywell Smart Energy is enabling utilities and distribution companies to deploy advanced capabilities that transform operations, reliability, and environmental sustainability while also providing solutions that engage customers in a more meaningful way. Honeywell meters monitor energy usage for improved energy management. Plus, Honeywell Smart Energy helps utilities exceed their demand management goals through a broad array of customer engagement and energy management programs.
“So far, our AMI system is only scratching the surface of all it can do, and we cannot imagine not having it,” said Tony Kirk, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for BEA. “We no longer need to roll trucks to connect or disconnect meters. We used to struggle reading every meter every month. Now, we can read every meter several times per day. Thanks to the integration of the AMI data from Honeywell with our meter data management software, our customer service representatives view weather and account information on screen when customers call with questions about their bills. Our engineers use the AMI system to monitor functions such as distribution transformer loads, substation loads, and voltage alarms. We can often pinpoint a location of an outage before the customer even knows there’s a disruption. The system enables us to reallocate metering staff to inspecting lines and maintaining the distribution system. It simplifies work tasks, improves accuracy and efficiency, and reduces the duration of outages.”
Kirk emphasized the deployment of the AMI system enabled BEA to offer a prepay system that has proven so successful at revenue collection that it saved the community from a rate increase. He explained, “Today, more than 1,000 or 12 percent of our customers are using U.S. Payments’ PaySite® kiosks for prepay services, as arranged by Exceleron. We have been able to collect over $150,000 in bad debt because Honeywell and Exceleron have worked so well together.”
BEA customers may access two kiosks to prepay or pay their electric utility bills 24 hours per day. One kiosk is located onsite at the utility; the other in a local grocery store. Prepay helps customers budget their daily usage. They pay for service prior to delivery, and as they use electricity, their credit balance is reduced daily. BEA issues to participating customers a card with a 12-digit customer/location identification number. Customers enter their I.D. number on the kiosk keypad to access their account and make a payment. Customers can pay with check or cash at no additional charge and with a credit or debit card for a $2.95 fee.
“The kiosk program represents a huge and valuable change for us and for our customers,” Tony Kirk said. “It’s a win-win situation. The customers are enjoying the convenient access and financial control the kiosks offer. This frees up our customer service and administrative staff. The money collected by the kiosks is posted to our bank accounts immediately, with no risk of loss through robbery. About 20 percent of our residential customers are using the kiosks, greatly reducing the volume of mail and visits to our office.”
The kiosks represent part of an expanding collection of payment and energy usage applications that are available to BEA customers and built on the Honeywell AMI platform. In addition to the kiosks, customers may use the BEA website to pay their bills online or use an interactive voice response system to pay by phone. Customers may make payments at the customer service window at the BEA office during business hours. Through the Exceleron MyUsage Mobile solution deployed by BEA, prepay customers can choose to receive a daily text or email with their account balance information.
In addition, via MyUsage Mobile, customers may obtain information about their electricity consumption via smart phone. In the near future, BEA customers will be able to use the MyUsage Mobile solution to make payments to their accounts.
To date, officials from more than 20 local utilities have visited BEA to see how the organization uses its AMI system to improve operations and customer services.
Key to the success of BEA’s AMI deployment is having an IT professional on staff. “I coordinate the cybersecurity demands of the system, as well as spearhead efforts by the staff to mine all of the many benefits and features it offers,” said Steve Herriman, Purchasing and IT Manager. “I am able to drive the integration of the data from the AMI system with our MDM, outage management, and billing solutions.”
“We give the Honeywell technical support team very high marks,” Herriman noted. “From our launch of the project over six years ago with the Elster team through the transition to Honeywell today, their personnel is responsive and very knowledgeable. The same people have been assigned to our account for a long time. They work hard to help us integrate the AMI system with a variety of software packages, and they work with us to find new and innovative ways to use the AMI data.”
For More Information
Vice President & Chief Financial Officer
Bolivar Energy Authority, Bolivar, TN
Purchasing & IT Manager
Bolivar Energy Authority, Bolivar, TN